On Thursday we continued west to Rapid City, stopping by the Corn Palace in Mitchell. We were going to leave some of Dad’s ashes here, but Mom suddenly wasn’t feeling as playful about the prospect as we sisters were. (Confession: I sprinkled a pinch of him in the gold pan of a mannequin miner sitting in a chair on the boardwalk in front of a tacky souvenir shop. The handwritten sign pinned to his checked shirt read: “Don’t touch me; I’m crabby.”) Dad loved these tacky roadside attractions, and I know he was chuckling at my daring.
Next stop Wall Drug, the Capital of Tat. Back in the late sixties when we first began stopping here on our way to and from the Black Hills, Wall Drug was just a drug store and small restaurant that offered free ice water. My how times have changed. Dad loved Wall Drug, and he loved discovering the new additions each time he passed through over the decades. No, we didn’t leave any of him here, but I considered it.
In Rapid City we met up with our brother, Marty, his wife, Jen, and daughter Molly. Mom’s sister has lived in Rapid for many decades, and three of her sons still live here. On Friday we explored the places Dad had taken us to: Custer State Park (bison and rock climbing); Crazy Horse Monument (Native American arts and cultural artifacts); Mount Rushmore (4 dead white guys). At Crazy Horse, we watched Native Americans dance in full regalia, thinking how Dad had always been captivated by American Indian culture. In the ’70s he was made an honorary member of the Navajo Nation. Someday I may take some of his ashes to Arizona and ask the Diné to bless Brother Jim and return him to the land.
Saturday morning we set the dial for Silver City, the tiny community in the Black Hills where we had rented cabins with our friends the Fentons, spending our days hiking, swimming, tubing Rapid Creek, and exploring. We had become acquainted with an old cowboy-miner who lived in the nearby hills and would wander through town, stopping to chat. Lean and weathered, Sage Brush Jim sported a long silver beard, blue jeans, and a snap-button shirt. Dad would also let his silver whiskers grow on vacation, and he often plied Sage Brush about where to pan for gold.
Marty picked the next spot for Dad’s ashes, a short walk down a grassy bank along Rapid Creek, where Dad had spent hours fishing. “Dad took a lot of fish from this spot and ate them. It’s only appropriate that we now feed the fish with Dad,” Marty said. And so each of us took a scoop and waded into the creek, sending Dad afloat downstream. Later, we hopped in inner tubes and floated a short stretch of the water, getting caught in downed trees and flipping out of the tubes. Dad had the last laugh on Marty, whose tube exploded on a sharp tree branch about five minutes into our float.
Supper with our beloved cousins back in Rapid City, a backyard BBQ at cousin Matt’s, was a fun reminiscence. We recalled stories of South Dakota adventures and of Dad—Uncle Jim. Cousin Bryan recounted a story when Dad and Mom came through on a trip West, long after we kids had grown and left home. Dad was going through a metal detector phase, so Bryan took him to an abandoned mine to “look for gold.” When the metal detector beeped, Dad instructed his companions to “dig here!” After an hour or so of worthless finds, Bryan’s wife distracted Dad while Bryan wrote a note on a scrap of paper: “Jim, it’s time to go home.” Bryan wrapped a nickel inside the note then dug a shallow hole and buried it. He directed Dad back to the spot, and the metal detector lit up over the nickel. When Dad dug up his prize, he had a good laugh.
I picture God coming for Dad: “Jim, it’s time to go Home.”